The Ambergate Chronicles - Galahorn or the Curious Adventure of the Glass Coffin


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    The Ambergate Chronicles - Galahorn or the Curious Adventure of the Glass Coffin

    Hello all!

    Since KidCharlemagne has been so kind to do a write up of my campaign, I thought I would return the favor and do a story hour for his campaign. The campaign takes place in Crystalmarch, KC's homebrew world. Ambergate is the name of a wizard's university in the Empire, where the story begins, and two of our characters are students at the university.

    From Kid Charlemagne: "Schooling lasts 7 years, typically from age 11 to age 18. Upon entering their final year, each student is tatooed or branded with the arcane symbol of their College on the palm of their left hand. Upon graduation, each is given a signet ring indicating the Right to Practice Magic. Wizards who do not have the ring cannot legally cast any spell outside of the College. Local authorities have the right to detain and try wizards in such cases, and they often end up burned at the stake. Wizards bearing a signet ring are subject to the Wizard’s Law, and are judged by a judge and jury of Wizards. Graduates also must wear gauntlets to signify their difference from the rest of the population."
    Last edited by eris404; Friday, 12th May, 2006 at 12:21 AM. Reason: Since the crash, I managed to piece together the parts that were lost. I am also starting the next adventure in the campaign (hence the title change).

 

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    Cast of (Player) Characters

    Dante of Ambergate - strange, sickly Imperial wizard, a student of necromancy; Dante was left as an infant on the steps of the Church of Alioth, the One True God, and raised as devout follower (wizard)

    George Barleycorn - Mavarran youth with a tendency towards pranks, a smart lad who doesn't apply himself well; has an affinity for guns and Corvus, the trickster god (gun mage/rogue)

    Ishiro Longshears - gnomish monk and gardener at Ambergate University (monk)

    Jade Harkith - Elvin druid, part of the entourage of the Elvin ambassador; has an affinity with insects (druid)

    Serai - young Murkraali noblewoman with a dark past (psion)

    Zeina bint Shihab - a traveler, sailor and adventuress, a seeker of knowledge (akashic)

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    Chapter One - The Wizards' Duel

    Since you are new to Ambergate, you really must visit the campus of the magical colleges. Now, during the late summer, is the best time to visit, with the students still gone on holiday and the masters barricaded in their studies finishing the lesson plans for the next school year (or hastily completing private research). It’s lovely and quiet and green and neatly kept by automata both magical and undead. See Maxwell over there? He is Gloom Hall’s resident zombie, a doddering old butler who doesn’t seem to realize that he has passed on. However, he normally doesn’t wear a pink, frilly dress, but we’ll come back to him in a moment. Just over that way is Emrys College with its technomagical trees in its massive hall. Every fall the students make the buds that will magically become leaves in the spring, only to wither and brown with the autumn and the next school year. The building over there houses the school called Astrum Saliaris and as you can probably guess from the observatory decorated with moons, suns and stars, the wizards there study astrology and the magic of the stars.

    Perhaps we should begin our tour there, among the empty marbled halls and silent classrooms. Inside is always cool and dark, as if the summer sun could never penetrate the permanent twilight here. Surprisingly, there is someone here, a woman young enough to be a student, hurrying as much as her ladylike manner will allow. Slippers whisper on the floor as she passes, as pretty, pale silk trails behind her. She is dark-skinned, a Murkraali, exotic to the paler Imperials who live in this city, and her hair is thick and long. A lovely jewel, held in place by a dainty silver chain, rests on her brow and gives her a noble air. She finds the right door, a heavy, scratched wooden thing, and pulls it open with both hands and some effort. She curtsies and bows her head slightly, deferring to the master within.

    Master Lykor doesn’t seem to notice her at first. His quill scratches on the paper in slow, careful movements. She tries not to look, at least not obviously, but it is difficult not to see the large, perfect circles of the complex diagram he draws. She lowers her eyes, outwardly obedient, patient and mannerly, but her curiosity is too great. Instead, she studies his long, gaunt face with its hairless, blushed cheeks. His eyes are bright and young, but lined with crow’s feet at the corners, making his age impossible to tell. His ears are a surprise, quite long, sharply pointed and lightly furred, the same way a human’s get when he ages. Realizing her rudeness, she glances around the study instead, but finds no comfortable place to look. Nearly every surface is covered with mirrors of all shapes and sizes: small round ones, square ones, long thin ones, a large one in an ornate, gilded frame surrounded by fantastic creatures. Some are wavy and distorted, giving her large comical nose or a long horsy face. She recalls his students telling her about his mastery of mirrors; they claim he can read the mind of anyone whose image is reflected within one.

    He clears his throat suddenly, which startles her back into good behavior.

    With great care, he blots the ink, rolls the paper into a tight tube and seals it with wax bearing his personal mark. For the first time, he looks at the girl and acknowledges her with a nod. She curtsies again, quickly.

    “You needed me, Master Lykor?” she asks.

    “Serai,” he intones. “Please take this to Master Borasian at Emrys College.” She can’t be sure, but she thinks she sees the corner of his lips fighting a smile. She curtsies, takes the scroll from him and waits for her dismissal. Instead, he pauses a moment, watching her.

    “Are you enjoying your stay here, Serai?” he asks. She raises her bowed head to meet his stare, only his eyes are locked at a point above her brow. She touches the jewel there, as if to assure herself it is still there.

    “Yes, sir, very much. Thank you for your kindness and hospitality. I am grateful.”

    He nods, but already his mind has gone on to the paper and instruments on his desk. She waits a second longer, then quiet as a silk-slippered mouse, she flees.

    The day is bright and warm and Serai is grateful to be outside and to have a moment alone to enjoy it. She wonders what the campus will be like when it is filled with students, many of them away from their parents for the first time. But thoughts of parents and family lead her to unpleasant memories of her own and so she locks them away for another time, when she is ready for them at last. If she notices Maxwell in his new frock, she makes no sign of it.

    She stops for a moment to admire the mechanical forest in Emrys Hall. The leaves are still green, although she can see a copper edge to some of them. She plucks a leaf from a low-lying branch to examine. The leaves are made of metal, but are as thin and light as the silk she wears. The edge is wickedly sharp. She wonders idly which student made this leaf and how. A beautiful piece of work it is. She hides it in her purse for later, curious to see if it will turn colors.

    Inside Emrys Hall is cold and dark, but is filled with the echoes of gears ticking into place. The whole building seems alive, like some great clockwork beast. She follows the grand passageway until it opens into the heart of the hall, the Great Library, a circular, domed room lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. Bathed in light from the oculus in the dome far above him, an old gentleman handles orbs of different sizes, moving them about in the air where they hover. He moves them an inch this way or that and sets them in motion, a lazy orbit around a larger sphere that hangs motionless in the center.

    He hears her enter in spite of her efforts to be quiet and greets her as warmly as he would an old, dear friend. “Do you have something for me, my dear?” he asks.

    She hands him the scroll and watches as he breaks the seal. He examines it with a frown, then exclaims with delight. He laughs and taps his temple, the way old people do when young people are around, as if to say “Don’t mind me. I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be.” He turns and switches two orbs in their orbit.

    Serai wants to ask Master Borasian about this curious machine, but his sharp hearing detects another being skulking about in the library. He exclaims, “Watch those books, George. Some of them bite. Come here.” The master’s tone and demeanor are different now. No longer a doddering, kindly man, he wields authority here and expects obedience.

    Sulky, George ambles to the center of the library. He is a tall, gangly youth with hair so blond and short he looks bald-headed. Serai is surprised to see a student here so early, but judging by his homemade, slightly frayed clothes and tri-cornered hat, he isn’t Imperial. She judges he is from someplace in the Middle Sea islands and perhaps his island is too far away or, more likely, he is too poor to afford the fare home.

    “George Barleycorn, this is Serai, our guest. I have an errand for you. I need you to take a message back to Master Lykor.”

    “If she’s here,” George interrupts, “why do I have to go, too?”

    Master Borasian glares at George. “Because she is our guest, not a page. And because I want you out of my hair,” he snaps. He turns to his desk to scrawl out a message. With his master’s back to the machine, George cannot resist showing off for the pretty girl. He switches two orbs in their orbit and sends them off with a gentle push. He is pleased when Serai rewards him with a grin.

    The master mutters to himself as he seals the scroll with wax and an imprint from his ring. Scowling, he hands it to George and dismisses them. As they leave, they hear the Master mutter, “That’s strange. I could swear I changed that orbit…”

    Outside again in the sunlight, Serai relaxes, stretching shoulders tightened by so much by propriety. To make conversation, she asks, “Do the students really make those leaves on the trees?”

    “Yes,“ George groans. “They’re a complete pain.”

    “Which one is yours?”

    “The one that turned black and fell off ten minutes after I put it on the tree,” he laments.

    Serai laughs. It isn’t a nervous, squealing giggle that most girls do, but an honest laugh that says she is actually listening to what he says and is amused and sympathetic. It encourages George to say more, but before he can think of something witty, he sees Maxwell.

    Like he does every day, Maxwell Zombie is sweeping the front stairs of Gloom Hall. Unlike any other day, he is doing so in a pink, frilly dress, the sort found on girls in Ambergate when it was fashionable two or three years ago.

    Several things happen at once. George realizes this is a brilliant joke and wishes he had thought of it. He laughs, but chokes back when he sees a thin, sickly-seeming lad at the front doors. The boy sees Maxwell and his eyes widen with shock. He sees George, red-faced and looking guilty, and his eyes narrow with anger.

    “You,” he seethes.

    “I didn’t!’ George exclaims.

    “You should be ashamed!” the boy scolds.

    Like most things that spend more than a day within Gloom Hall, the lad Dante is pale and overwhelmingly gray. Whether it is because of all the dust or because the hall simply bleaches the life out of all things, color included, George couldn’t say. What he could say is that Dante has been his best friend ever since Dante was forced to tutor George to keep him from failing his classes and being expelled. George would not be here without Dante. George might tease or play small jokes on Dante now and again, but he would never, ever do anything to ruin their friendship.

    I should pause here moment to explain about Dante. Dante is very smart and very driven and very narrowly focused. Dante was born to be a necromancer. As a child, he would often wander the streets alone to look for bones and animal corpses to play with. He once kept a dead raven for two months because it had “beautiful plumage.” He wrote a ten-parchment essay and open letter defending the use of dead bodies as not only practical and ingenious but also as holy, moral and just. George, like most people, misunderstands Dante’s interest in all things dead as some weird kind of affection, but the reality is that Dante is intensely unsentimental, rational and practical. Dead things are interesting not because they are dead or because they need anyone’s sympathy, but because they are useful. Or can be.

    So when George saw the anger in Dante’s eyes, he thought it was out of affection for his “pet” zombie. In truth, Dante is outraged at the affront to Gloom Hall. How typical and sad for a fellow wizard to misunderstand and belittle the important work of this college!

    The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when laughter explodes from a nearby bush. Malek, toadies in tow, emerges triumphant.

    Dante and George are bonded once more. George hates Malek, hates his smug face and fashionable clothes and good grades. He hates his popularity and his grin that’s supposed to be charming, but comes off as lop-sided and obvious.

    Dante hates no one. Hatred implies that the thing hated is worthy of one’s attention. However, a fly that bites begs to be swat. He sends Maxwell up to clean the Master Raventhorpe’s office in hopes the Master of Gloom Hall is about and will come to sort this out.

    Malek’s face could barely contain his grin. “My, Dante, ol’ Maxie looks lovely today. Where are you two lovebirds going today? Somewhere special, where you can be alone?”

    “You have no imagination,” Dante replies, “and less talent.”

    George spits, “Har-har, you’re just hilarious, aren’t you, Malek? That took a whole lot of guts and brains to put a dress on a zombie. Picking on a defenseless corpse! Aren’t you the big, brave man!”

    Malek’s grin vanishes. He ignores George and to Dante, he says, “Alright, then. Let’s see how brave you are. I’ve been wanting to see what you’re made of, Dante. How about a duel?”

    George examines his friend’s face for a reaction, a clue how to proceed. If it were George he had challenged, George would have accepted without a second thought. But wizards’ duels are forbidden and are grounds for expulsion. George has been so close to being expelled so many times that it no longer frightens him. But if Dante backs down now, Malek would win and the whole school would know. Dante would be humiliated. If Dante did accept, he could be expelled, or worse, Malek could beat him and again Dante would be humiliated.

    To Dante’s credit, he looks relaxed and mildly intrigued, not at all concerned. “An interesting proposition,” he notes.

    Malek ups the ante, but his bravado betrays him. “Any time or place. You name it.”

    “Even midnight in the graveyard by the chapel in town?” Dante inquires. “Perhaps tomorrow night?”

    Malek’s breath doesn’t catch, nor does he sweat, nor does he falter, not even for a second. He agrees and tells Dante to bring a second. The toads giggle gleefully as they leave.

    “Well, that was interesting,” Serai says.

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    Dante, once properly introduced, follows Serai and George towards their errand and the three of them discuss the duel in hushed voices.

    “I don’t like this,” George admits.

    “He gave in rather quickly,” Dante agrees. “And he doesn’t seem the least bit worried.”

    “Do you think he’s planning something?”

    “I can find out,” Serai offers. George and Dante mull over her proposal in silence, but both are thinking the same thing. They have a deep distrust of most students from past experiences and since they don’t know her well, she could just as easily hurt as help them. They are quiet a moment too long, so she adds, “Don’t worry, I can be subtle. They won’t know I’m spying at all. I want to help. Trust me.”

    It’s not difficult to find Malek around campus. Just follow the loudest, most nasty laughter you can hear and you’ll see him, surrounded by wannabes, toadies, bootlickers, sycophants, cronies. If you think there’s no difference between any of these, you’re quite wrong. Observe them for a moment and you’ll see the pecking order. Wannabes are the lowest caste and dare not speak. They take the most abuse and laugh the loudest when they are not the object of it. Toadies are next and are distinguished by their meanness. They tend to do the heavy lifting and kicking and disposal of the bodies. Bootlickers are full of adoration and will do anything Malek asked and then some. Few graduate to sycophant, whose flattery hides a smug contempt and belief that they are just as good as, if not better than, Malek. For them, Malek is a means to an end and if a few well-chosen words keep them on his good side, so be it. In the inner circle, however, are the cronies, the chosen few who are Malek’s equals, his most trusted lieutenants. Only a year ago, Malek was a crony of Atli Crow, the one, true god of the school. After graduating, Atli passed the mantel of “Man about Campus” to Malek. The circle of life goes on.

    Serai’s approach is concealed by their loud, raucous laughter. It isn’t clear what was said, but by the blush of a timid third year, it’s certain he was the butt of the joke. Malek is the first to notice her. He hadn’t been laughing and is barely smiling, as if these antics bore him. He’s wary at first, so Serai puts on her best vacuous smile.

    “What you did back there,” she purrs, “was very funny.”

    Malek warms. “It was too easy,” he demurs, “and they were asking for it anyway.”

    She giggles in a high voice. “Are you really going to duel him?”

    This offends him. “Of course! I’m not afraid of him or any ol’ graveyard! I’m not afraid those disgusting necromancers. Besides, we’ll show them.”

    She tosses her hair and leans in towards him, her fingers resting lightly on his forearm. She is very close now, a fellow conspirator, her warm breath on his neck giving him goose bumps.

    “What are you going to do?” she whispers.

    He smiles and replies, “Let’s just say that there’s lots of fragile things in around that graveyard. Things that could very easily get broken. I’m thinking the priest would be awfully angry at whoever violated the chapel grounds in such a callous manner. Don’t you think?”

    A slow smile spreads across Serai’s face. “I should think so.” She sighs and points to the scroll in her belt as an apology. “I have to run. I’m on an errand for Master Lykor and he doesn’t like it when I’m late. Good Luck!”

    “See you around,” Malek calls after her, his voice full of hope.

    ---
    Dante chooses to explain his plan over pints in the city later that day. If you want to hear more, take the road that leads out of the walls of the quiet campus and into the noise of the city. Turn right and head towards the markets where fat women haggle over bread and hogs’ heads. You can find some decent hard cheese there and the first apples of the harvest if you’re hungry. The apples might be a little green yet, so watch your stomach. That bar over there is Ragi Longcoat’s favorite place to play and, by extension, George’s favorite bar. She makes a good deal of coin there singing her ballads and telling her stories. He tells Serai all about Ragi, about her long, wavy hair, about the way her eyes widen when she’s engrossed in a story, about her beautiful voice and about her fierce, defiant nature. He is pleased that Serai is such a willing and patient listener, especially since Dante tends to roll his eyes every time Ragi’s name is mentioned. Maybe it’s because Dante can see plainly what his friend cannot. Ragi is a free-spirited, graceful, mature woman, and George is an awkward boy not even through with his studies. Whenever George is around her, Dante expects her to pat him on the head like a puppy. It’s undignified.

    Dante changes the subject. “My plan is simple. We’re going to humiliate Malek.”

    He pauses to let his words take affect. Serai and George exchange puzzled frowns, but nod for him to go on.

    “The idea is to get him in trouble before he gets us in trouble. If he wants to play dress up, we’ll give him some dolls to play with. I have a crypt I can get into.”

    “Dante, you have crypt? Why do you have a crypt?” George worries for a moment that Dante will actually answer the question, but Dante ignores the bait.

    Instead, Dante continues, “George, I need you to get some old dresses. They don’t have to be fancy, just go to a rag seller and buy some.”

    “How about if I steal them? I’m sure there’s girls around campus somewhere.” George is notorious for two things: his sense of humor and his utter lack of money. Parting with even two coppers is enough to make him weep.

    “Don’t steal them, George, and stop interrupting! We dress up the corpses and prop them up in…suggestive poses. We lure Malek into the crypt and trap him inside. Serai will get the town guard, tell them vandals broke into the graveyard. Malek will get caught and with any luck, be expelled. What do you think?”

    “It’s a great plan,” Serai says.

    “I love it!” George beams.

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    The Church of Alioth, the Prophet, maintains a small chapel and cemetery in the town of Ambergate. There is also a chapel attached to the campus, but it is mostly for show, a symbol of the goodwill that supposedly exists between the mages and the Church. Few students attend services there, and the faithful servant who keeps this chapel of the One True Religion rarely interferes with the daily workings of the colleges. This isn’t to say the Church isn’t interested in the colleges, just that it is the concern of those with more power and prestige in the Church’s hierarchy, not the local parish priest. Dante could have chosen this church, but its proximity to the school (and of course, the masters), made it a bad choice for a duel. But Dante is as well acquainted with the town’s cemetery as he is with the one on campus and can navigate its tombstones and crypts in his sleep, let alone in the darkness. He is still at an advantage.

    The town church is small and tidy and crowned with hideous gargoyles at odds with its otherwise plain exterior. A small suite of living quarters is attached to one side, almost as an afterthought. The priest maintains a garden in chapel yard, which is separated by an eight-foot wall from the cemetery. The late summer flowers are still blooming, though their perfume is turning sickly, much like over-ripe fruit. The priest retires early after prayers and sleeps as soundly as the dead.

    Unfortunately, you’ll have to climb the gate if you want to see what happens. Be careful of the metal spikes on top.

    With a little difficulty, George and Dante scale the wall. Neither is particularly athletic and although George has good aim and quick reflexes, neither will help him this night. Serai is positioned outside, waiting for the signal to send for the guard.

    Dante leads George through rows of headstones to the unlocked crypt. The corpses within are light and dry, mummified by age. George isn’t much help. He holds the dresses, but Dante must actually clothe and carefully pose the fragile bodies. Later, Dante positions himself in the bell tower of the church, a good vantage point to see the entire cemetery, while George stays on the ground as bait. They leave a candle lit in the crypt as a beacon for Malek. George hopes that Malek will see it on his own and investigate, giving George an easy way to shut him inside. If not, he will have to lead Malek there and improvise.

    There is nothing to do now but wait. George lingers out the line of sight of the gate and watches for sign of Malek and his second, a dark-haired crony with a hooknose and sour face. Malek takes his time getting over the wall and exploring the graveyard. He doesn’t see the candle or chooses to ignore it as he searches for Dante. George sighs, realizing he will need to lead Malek there. He leaves his hiding place, announcing himself to Malek.

    “He’s back there,” George points towards the light. Malek says nothing, but leads the way.

    George watches Malek closely. He’s ready and waiting to see what he will do, but has no idea how he himself will react. Because of this, Malek surprises him.

    He mutters something that sounds like curse. He points his index finger at George’s eyes and there is a bright flash that blinds him. A second later, George is still rubbing eyes, seeing spots and afterimages.

    It has all gone horribly awry. Malek is no fool and doesn’t plan on being taken easily. He and his second are running at top speed and have a good lead on George. He swears. He knows no spells, not even the simple cantrips that Dante knows so well, that could stop Malek. Feeling helpless, he races after them.

    Malek reaches the chapel wall at an alarming speed and leaps over the eight-foot wall in one bound. This surprises George so much that he nearly stumbles over a half-hidden stone. Desperate, he screams for the guards he hopes are coming, shouting bloody murder, vandals, thieves! He does reach the wall, but can’t get a good handhold to pull himself up. He panics. The guards will be here any minute. Where can he hide? Then he remembers the crypt.

    Meanwhile, Dante sees Malek and his toady clear the garden wall. In the darkness, he makes out Serai on the outside wall, climbing it as if her hands were glued to it. In the garden below, a third form, cloaked and shadowy, has joined fray. At first, Dante thinks it could be priest or another of Malek’s buddies come to help vandalize the chapel. Hooknose withdraws a rolled paper from the case on his belt. Malek reaches out, asking for the scroll. Dante’s heart sinks.

    But then Dante hears words intoned in a strange, lilting language he’s never heard before. The grass, the flowers and even the vines on the garden wall grow and writhe like serpents. The hooded stranger commands them with a movement from his hand. By his will, they wrap around feet, climb legs and grasp at arms. Malek dodges and pulls free of the mobile, vicious plants, only to be ensnared again. He moves slowly, like a man wading in the ocean and being pulled down by the undertow.

    Serai calls out to Dante in a hoarse whisper. She holds out her hand, mimics climbing the wall and points to him. He nods. She closes her eyes a moment in concentration, and he sees a subtle, oily sheen envelope her body. He feels his hands and feet become thick and sticky and his arms and legs thicken. A quick test reveals the secretions on his hands and feet, combined with the extra strength in his arms and legs, allow him to stick to the wall. Slowly, he descends, face first, determined not to let Malek get away.

    Hooknose is startled by something moving in the grass and loses his grip on the rolled parchment. The cloaked man snatches it away. Malek cries out in frustration and retreats to the garden gate. The plants impede him, snatching at his clothes, his hair, his arms and legs, but they can’t stop him. Hooknose realizes Malek is abandoning him and panics. He pulls at the plants with the strength of one truly terrified and breaks free. In a few seconds, he is behind Malek and out the gate and in only a moment more they are gone from the cemetery.

    The hooded figure squats among the grasping plants and lifts what looks to Dante like a still-writhing vine from the ground – a snake or viper of some kind, but the darkness does not allow him a good look. This creature the stranger places into a bag at his side. His hood falls back and Dante can at last see his face – gaunt and narrow, ageless, with sharply pointed ears outlined in the moonlight.

    Back in the crypt, George swears the corpses moved. With the candlelight gone, he realizes immediately his mistake. His stomach clenches with fear as the dry, papery corpses leer at him from their lascivious poses. He watches one, only to see movement out of the corner of eye from the other. He cowers in a corner and makes himself as small as possible.

    When the door creaks open, he thinks his heart will fly right out of his mouth, but it is only Dante, looking for his friend. Dante smiles, but it is not cruel or teasing. He rights the corpses and doesn’t ask George to help this time. He never mentions this to George, or anyone else for that matter, ever again.

    I think they all could stand a drink. If we follow them, we could get a few beers at Ragi’s Favorite Tavern. I doubt Dante will give George any grief about it this time.

    Yes, there they are, and George is making a fool of himself as usual. They look worn out, don’t they? I know, you’re wondering who the mysterious elf is, aren’t you? His name is Jade (or loosely translates as Jade from the Elvin language) and he is an acquaintance of Serai’s and also a druid and assistant to the Elvin ambassador here. They met on an Elvin ship, and since Serai is human and Murkraali, you get the feeling that there’s more to that story that she isn’t telling. Never mind that, she will tell her own story in her own time.

    So Jade has given George an Elvin spice to put in his drink and now he is quite sincerely drunk. Thankfully, Ragi isn’t here to see him like this, a depressed, lovesick mess. The elf seems interested in the effects the spice is having on George. He asks questions and seems fascinated by the answers. One gets the impression of a child watching a spider trapped inside an overturned glass. The child doesn’t mean to be cruel, but its curiosity has made it callous. Alioth, in his Infinite Mercy and Wisdom, lets George finally pass out. The common folk say St. Brune loves drunkards most of all, for no man has more courage, strength or passion, nor is any man in more need of the blessed saint’s protection, than one who is too far into his cups.

    It is closing time now, and they have woken George. Even half-drunk, he’s a stealthy one and can sneak back into the dormitory with the professionalism of a cat burglar. They say good night outside, in the warm night that still smells green like summer, under a glaring moon and sprinkle of stars.

    The story doesn’t end here, but only begins. The morning shines on Dante and George and with it comes a summons to Raventhorpe, the Master of Gloom Hall. Dante is composed, but George’s head is ringing like a bell and the master’s hard face, as impassive as a stone golem, has always made George nervous. Today he stares in disapproval down his nose at George and folds his arms tightly against his chest like armor.

    “Can you tell me why I found Maxwell roaming the halls while wearing a pink dress?” he asks. His voice is eerily calm.

    Dante nods and adds, “Yes, sir, some students decided to play a prank. Some words were exchanged, but nothing came of it. I thought it prudent to send him to you.”

    “Yes, I’m sure the ‘vandals’ will be caught and get their punishment,” Raventhorpe replies dryly. He locks his gaze with Dante’s for a moment, then adds, “I think students with too much free time tend to get into mischief. Don’t you agree? I have an errand for you and Mr. Barleycorn.”

    From a desk drawer, he pulls a parchment in formal script with a wax seal and signature at the bottom.

    “This is a bill of sale for a new bell we have commissioned for the church. Take this to Lucius Krekett in Bellhold and bring back the bell. In one piece, gentlemen, please. You’ll have a wagon and team, of course. Worthen will be accompanying you. Leave here today and come straight back. Do I make myself clear?”

    The lads say yes, sir, we understand, though neither looks too pleased about the errand, as it sounds too much like punishment.

    Later, the boys find Serai and Jade near the stables. Neither student is surprised to see Serai is carrying a small, ladylike pack and is dressed for travel. She is pleased at the chance to travel, even if it is just to the next town, and although she isn’t officially a student here, none of the masters seem to mind that she comes along. The elf is just as anxious to explore this strange land and seems more than a little protective of Serai.

    Worthen is the cheerful handyman who does odd jobs around the campus. He would be slight in build without that round potbelly, and the points to his ears suggest Elvin heritage or perhaps even an Elvin parent. The druid asks him about this, but Worthen’s answers are vague, whether from ignorance or shame none of them can tell. Worthen does travel outside the campus, into Ambergatetown and elsewhere, and so he has a wealth of stories. Bellhold, it seems, is an interesting small town indeed.

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    gotta....

    ...keep my eye on this story hour...
    Jason 'djordje' Pearson - javahead, lurker and all-around wallflower...all post are MY personal opinion.
    | contact me via email | visit my website | visit my .sig post - outdated, but still look @ it! |

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    Quote Originally Posted by djrdjmsqrd
    ...keep my eye on this story hour...
    Ditto.
    -Lela, Dweller in Story.

    "There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
    Can circumvent or hinder or control
    The firm resolve of a determined soul."

    -Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1855-1919

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    I just wanted to thank eris404 for sharing this - I'm the DM of this particular campaign (I'm happy to answer any questions), and it's been a really fun experience. The characters for this game are just too cool for words... I get a huge kick out of the Dante/George dynamic especially.
    "I hurt Firewing." is not something a huge number of people can say. "He dropped a parking garage on me," on the other hand, a lot of people can say. -Kazan, my Champions GM.

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    Thanks, guys! I feel all blushy now.

    Just FYI, I play George and the gun mage class is a hoot for anyone who has a secret desire to be a gunslinger/a cowboy/Chow Yun-Fat. Yes, sometimes girls want to shoot things. Also, although Zeina, the akashic character, doesn't come into the story until much later, I also think the akashic class is very cool - lots of flavor and neat abilities (the class takes all the good parts of being a rogue and/or a bard).

    This next adventure I'm going to start posting is actually Of Sound Mind. Any discrepancies from the original adventure is entirely my fault (specifically, my faulty memory).
    Last edited by eris404; Thursday, 29th September, 2005 at 04:45 PM.

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    Chapter Two - Nightmares

    Our students have left Ambergate. If you follow this road, not much more than a wide, dusty path from years of wagon traffic, you can catch up with them in no time. Worthen’s wagon is driven by two strong, thick-bodied horses. Worthen sits on the bench in front while Dante, Serai and George ride in the hay-filled cart. Jade has his own horse, a sleek animal with a dark mane and white spot between its eyes, and rides beside the wagon. It’s an Elvin breed, with a proud bearing and a sure, light step.

    Worthen begins, “You know, there was a dragon in Bellhold about fifty years ago. Copperdeath was its name and it lived in the copper mines near the town. It enslaved the entire town, every last man, woman and child, to mine the copper for it.”

    “What did it do with the copper?” Dante asks.

    Worthen shrugs. “Who knows what’s in a dragon’s mind? No one was certainly going to ask it. Anyway, some ‘adventurers’ came into town and killed Copperdeath. The townsfolk were so happy that they treated these heroes like the emperor himself. The adventurers decided they liked the town well enough and so they stayed. Their children live there to this day. It’s a nice little town, though I’ve heard rumors lately about a plague. Not like any sickness I’ve ever heard of, though. People say they get nightmares and can’t sleep most of the night. Some think the water’s been poisoned. Others think the dragon is back and is avenging itself.”

    “The masters wouldn’t send us there if they thought it was truly dangerous, would they?”

    Worthen smiles. “Of course not! Sometimes simple folk get superstitious and turn small things into disasters. I hear they worship Dagoth there. I’m surprised missionaries from the Church haven’t put an end to that.”

    Dante’s eyes widen at that name: Dagoth, the God of Nightmares, a mysterious deity of unknown origins.

    “What do you know of Dagoth?” Serai asks, a certain tension in her voice.

    Worthen shrugs. “You’re the student, you should tell me about Dagoth. He causes bad dreams. What else do you need to know?”

    At this point, the conversation finds a desert and dries up. The dull fog of boredom settles over our little party once the novelty and excitement of travel expires. It is unpleasant to be so confined for so long in such an uncomfortable vehicle, with nothing but the slowly passing landscape (mostly farms on low hills with copses of wood, seldom changing) and the monotonous creak of wagon wheels for company. Dante occupies himself by reading a large tome he borrowed from the school’s library. Serai and George chat with Worthen about the trees, the trail and whatever ordinary details about the town ahead he wishes to part with, but they soon tire of the effort. Jade, inscrutable as ever, watches the land as if expecting an ambush. His viper lays coiled about his neck and warms itself between his cloak and body heat.

    George asks the elf, “Does your snake have a name?”

    “Vor,” Jade replies.

    “Vor?” George repeats. He isn’t sure he heard that properly.

    The elf thinks for a moment, then adds, “Martha.”

    Not wanting to seem dense, George refrains from asking him more. Instead, he whispers to Serai, “Which is it, Vor or Martha?” She shrugs and shakes her head.

    Now, George is bored, and he would like for the conversation to continue, but he can’t think of anything to talk about. He doesn’t want to consider the coming school year, for example, let alone speak of it. He knows nothing more of Bellhold to add and Ambergate seems suddenly dull when considering the exotic places Serai has lived and visited. The landscape of farmland is achingly same and if it wasn’t for the punctuations of milestones, and the rough jostling of the wagon’s wheels in the ruts of the roads, he might believe they were standing perfectly still. This trip has become tedious, George is disappointed to discover, and he fears the worst, that it will be a waste of several precious days of freedom before the new school year starts.

    So our little group drowses in the warm autumn afternoon and even the horses plod along half-asleep, until sharp-eared Jade hisses and announces the approach of another traveler, coming from the direction of Bellhold, with a curt “Look!”

    You’ll see the traveler in a few moments: a plain-looking man in homely-woven clothes and a straw hat to keep the sun off his bearded face. An old, stubborn ox drives his cart, which is crammed full of sacks, barrels, boxes, crates and odd bits of furniture. It takes him a little while to get within earshot of Worthen’s wagon, but the students are already perked with interest and Worthen waves his friendliest greeting. The man slows his beast with a few tugs on the reins and appraises Worthen with a suspicious eye.

    “You’re coming from Bellhold?” Worthen asks.

    The man spits to ward off bad luck, a peasant superstition, before he speaks. “Lived there all my life and leaving now. I’d do the same if I were you.”

    Dante’s breath catches and he asks quickly, “Why? What’s the matter? We’ve heard all manner of strange rumors.”

    The man grunts, “All of it true, no doubt. Awful bad dreams, a plague of them, if you ask me. Town’s cursed and the very water is poison. Don’t go there, I say. Turn back and leave it to the Nightmare God.”

    Dante and George exchange glances before Dante continues, “I’m afraid we have business to conduct there. Surely it isn’t as bad as you say?”

    “It’s worse,” the man snaps. “Not a precious moment of sleep none of us have had. The folk snarl and snap like starving dogs at each other.” He shakes his head. “Even my poor ol’ dog here growls and nips and twitches in his sleep.” He pats the old, sad-eyed hound lying by his side. “I had to leave my whole life back there. But it’s better to flee and lose your livelihood than lose your life.” He points an accusing finger at Worthen. “If you be so foolish to go to Bellhold and take these whelps with you, the Nightmare God can have you. Me, I can’t leave fast enough.” He clicks his tongue and snaps the reigns. The heavy ox stirs and plods on, slow but obliging.

    “What do you think that was all about?” George exclaims after the man has moved on. But no one answers him. Dante is already jotting notes in the margins of his book, while Worthen and Jade scan the landscape as if the very trees might attack. Serai has pulled her knees up to her chest and hugs them as if to seal and protect herself.

    The air of foreboding and wariness finally infects George as well and he takes from his bag a special leather case. If you notice, he has a matching leather holster on his belt. Actually, you can’t miss it, since it holds a heavy pistol with a long barrel decorated with curlicues and other abstract, and arcane, designs. The case holds small jars and oilcans, soft cloths and brushes. He smiles at the familiar smell of grease and metal and absorbs himself with the homey task of cleaning his pistol.

    Serai had noticed the pistol before, but until now has been too polite or distracted to ask about it. So George is surprised, but glad, when Serai unfolds herself and crawls over the straw to inspect the pistol.

    “Is it a magical pistol?” she asks.

    “No, it’s just an old military pistol. Unna gave it to me for passing my examinations last year.” He sees her brow furrow slightly, so he explains, “Unna is a smith at Emrys College. She’s been my mentor since I first came to Ambergate. Sort of like a mother, actually. I’m not the best student and I’ve been close to failing so many times that I’ve lost count. I know she’d keep me on as her apprentice, but she doesn’t think that’s good enough. She wants me to graduate and become a real mage, make my family proud.” He hesitates. “I’m not a very good mage. I can manage a few cantrips, but not much else. I can’t seem to get the hang of the memorization, though I could mimic the effect if someone showed it to me first.” George flushes, embarrassed. He shoots a steely look at Worthen and Jade, as if to daring them to laugh, but neither seems interested in this conversation. Scowling, he steals a look at Dante, but the pale, thin lad is hiding behind his book. By the redness in his ears, George judges Dante is embarrassed, too.

    “So why the gun?” Serai asks. If she notices George’s discomfort, she has the grace not to mention it.

    George shrugs. “I just liked it. I was always asking to borrow it anyway and I was a decent enough shot. And I like mechanical things, I’m pretty good at fixing them. She thought maybe I’d make a good alchemist and she could teach me how to make gunpowder and whatnot. Then one day I was watching the mage blades spar in the courtyard and I realized what they were doing, that they were channeling magic through their swords. And I wondered if I could do that, too.”

    “Channel magic?”

    He nods. “Through the pistol. Using it as a focus instead of the special ingredients the wizards use. Only I can’t find anyone to teach me how to do it properly, so I’m having to figure it out on my own.”

    Absently, Serai touches the crystal where it rests on her brow. She frowns a moment in thought, then replies, “I don’t think some things can be taught, George. I think some people are just born with a talent. Someone can help you refine it, but if it isn’t there to begin with…” She pauses, letting the thought go unfinished. “You recognize something in it you can’t describe, like a sense of kinship, a shared soul.”

    George turns to Dante, who has been listening to and staring at them all along, the book open but forgotten on his lap.

    “That’s an interesting observation,” Dante notes. “I think the same could be said of quite a few people.”

    “Some of who may be in this very wagon,” she replies with a smirk.

    “Look,” Jade interrupts, his voice blade sharp. Quick hoof beats and shouts erupt from up ahead. Jade spurs his sleek, red-brown horse to a gallop and George, expecting trouble, loads his pistol with charge and shot. They see men in rough, work-stained clothes chasing a horse, which whinnies and gallops at a merry pace. Jade reaches the renegade first, his horse matching it stride for stride, and with a gentle hand calms the beast to a walk. The men are all laughs and grins now, shaking hands with the dismounted elf and slapping him on the shoulder. The students climb out of the wagon, eager for an excuse to stand and stretch. They yawn. Most of the day is gone and the sun is sinking into the trees on the horizon.

    One of the men, a kindly-faced fatherly type with silver hair, introduces himself as Othic, the owner of the local farm from which this horse escaped. His house is nearby and would they like to join him for dinner and a night of rest? The weary travelers are happy to accept his invitation and are treated to a hot stew of vegetables and rabbit meat in a thick, savory sauce. Dante thinks to ask if Othic has been troubled by bad dreams, and though he has heard the townsfolk complain of such, his sleep is untroubled, though he does admit his water comes from a well, not the river that flows near town. The students drink deeply the water from his well and fall into sound and pleasant sleep. They look peaceful, don’t they?

    In Bellhold, a loud copper bell rings in its tower at sunset. You can see a faint glimmer of the last sunlight play across its tarnished curves. The night comes.

    At the inn, men speak in subdued voices over warm, bitter beer. Look in the window: even with the merry fire in the grille, it is a dark and cheerless place. The men have sunken eyes burning with weariness, and yet none are in any hurry to get home to bed. One slumps on the table only to wake himself with a start a moment later. Several reflect on the objects hung on the wall: a pitted sword, a dwarven battleaxe, a badly dented round shield and a talon far too large for any normal animal. Mostly, it’s the talon that holds their attention, but what they think of it they share with no one. Outside a man is screaming, warning them of the apocalypse and their impeding doom. The men in the tavern groan.

    “Shut him up” someone snarls, to no one in particular. But the barkeep is listening and finds the poor soul outside. He brings a dish of warm food and a mug of beer with him, a peace offering. The raving man spits and smashes the mug to the ground.

    “Poison!” he screams.

    “Cobble, please.” The barkeep pleads. “You’re annoying my customers. Please, go home, try to get some sleep.”

    “Sleep!” Cobble shrieks. “No, not sleep! The dragon awaits in sleep! We are abandoned to Dagoth! Expect no mercy, you poisoner, you filth eater!” He snatches the bowl away and tosses the food at the innkeeper. Down his apron, brown gravy and lumps of meat run in warm, thick rivers.

    “What did you call me?” the bartender snaps. “Get away! GET OUT!”

    Cobble dances away, frightened but still shrieking nonsense and bloody spittle. Irritable, sleepy faces poke out from windows and doors from nearby cottages. A few people shout for quiet – sweet, merciful Alioth, be quiet! But Cobble is already gone, leaving the innkeeper shaking with rage in the street. With a vicious snarl, he kicks everyone out of the bar for the night and throws a pail of water on the fire – he cannot bear to look at the flames any longer. He is so very tired, but instead of going to his bed, he sits on a bench and stares into the darkness until he can no longer tell if his eyes are opened or closed.

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